Housing: The Crisis that Affects Both Living and Employment
Senator Scott Wiener represents San Francisco and northern San Mateo County in the California State Senate. Elected in 2016, Senator Wiener focuses extensively on housing, transportation, civil rights, criminal justice reform, clean energy, and alleviating poverty. He chairs the Senate Housing Committee. Before being elected to the Senate, Senator Wiener served as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, representing the district previously represented by Harvey Milk, and chaired the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. Before being elected to office, Senator Wiener practiced law for 15 years, including nearly a decade as a Deputy City Attorney in the San Francisco City Attorney’s Office. He also served in a number of community leadership roles, including co-chair of the San Francisco LGBT Community Center and on the national Board of Directors of the Human Rights Campaign. Senator Wiener has lived in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood since 1997. He received degrees from Duke University and Harvard Law School.
On weekends my friends and I built treehouses & clubhouses. They served as our fortress, used to share stories and amplify each other’s imagination. We’d leave them only to explore, which consisted of the local laundromat where folks came to wash clothes and rehash the week, and to attend Sunday dinners in the neighborhood. Dinners were my personal favorite. They were always informal, mashed together and perfectly unplanned. Stories of times past, local gossip and jokes flowed throughout the night. They occurred at different homes, with random dishes, but there was a certainty about them that was reassuring.
We lived in South LA near gang violence, police brutality, drugs, extreme homelessness, and we were all poor, but through it all we depended on one another. Sometimes that meant sharing gut-busting laughter. Sometimes it meant running a power cord to a neighbor’s home because they couldn’t pay their bills that month. Other times it meant giving or receiving a quiet long hug because a relative lay slain in the middle of the street. There was inherent kindness in those moments, and it made us a closer community.
There was shared joy when a neighbor drove up in their newly purchased bucket (aka a beat up car) with shiny rims while playing loud music. Everyone would gather in the street to celebrate him for saving 3 years’ worth of his earnings, only to be interrupted by someone’s grandma lovingly yelling, “Enough now, turn that damn ruckus off!”
There was shared humanity when one of our homeless uncles would stop in to grab a bite and simultaneously teach us how to fix the chain on our bikes. We’d all hug him despite his perceived filth or odor and offer him shelter in the haphazardly built clubhouse.The lessons of childhood community carried me through my time behind prison walls from ages 16 to 21. It gave me the ability to see past people’s flaws and honor their humanity. The optimistic halls of academia at Loyola Marymount, where I studied Civil Engineering, suffocated me with memories of being broke with friends, yet having the resolve that we’d be okay. And varying professional endeavors, from running for state office to developing buildings throughout California, demanded that I remain open, vulnerable and willing to discover something new with someone new at any moment.
The distinct connection through it all, however, has always been kindness. Kindness has allowed me to be forgiven. It has taught me to forgive. It has grounded me in the most unsure moments and life-altering decisions. It has challenged me to push myself and others to be a reflection of our collective hopes and dreams for the world. It is the acknowledgement of vulnerability and the affirmation of our shared humanity. To me, Treehouse is now a home for this kind!
In college, I took a class on community organizing by Marshall Ganz, and after college, I found myself doing just that: working on John Kerry’s presidential campaign from a rural town in Arizona, organizing the community and managing volunteers. Throughout this time, one of the most lasting impressions was my observation that these volunteers were there for more than just the candidate; they were there for each other.
Two volunteers in particular manifested the strength of togetherness. One of these volunteers was a woman with limited mobility of her hands, and another, was a Vietnamese woman, still navigating the English language. I realized that together they could accomplish what they wanted to, but couldn’t individually, so I paired both women together and gave the woman without use of her hands a headset, and instructed the Vietnamese woman to be in charge of dialing. As a team, they were able to make calls, and do more than just support the same cause, but also support each other.
In America, money buys you isolation. The more you have, the bigger your backyard, the further you are from intimate moments like these that speak to the power of a shared humanity and human connectivity.
Moving forward in my life, this experience shaped how I view and value community, and I applied this to a community that had influenced me in a powerful way. After many trips to Israel, studying meditation, I organized my first silent meditation retreat. What began as a week-long retreat to gather my close friends evolved into an annual retreat, and soon after, metamorphized into a weekly Jewish meditation group for my friends, friends of friends, and beyond. Building this tribe, and the beauty I’ve found within it, lies at the core of why I support and insist on the creation of Treehouse – for within a strong, purposeful community is a place that people as individuals and as a group can find balance, peace and strength.